Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Temple Mount

Do you know what Temple Mount is? I shall briefly explain. In the Old Testament, King David wanted to build a temple. He didn't, but he started building a platform over Mount Moriah (where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac - or Ishmael if you're Muslim) upon which to build a temple. His son, Solomon, then made a temple on this platform (TEMPLE mount). It was destroyed, then rebuilt and then destroyed again. Then in 638 AD the Dome of the Rock was built thereon. This is a Muslim mosque, and it's beautiful, and it's built over the rock where Abraham was to have sacrificed his son.

The Temple Mount is only open to non-Muslims at very specific hours and has a pretty strict dress code. But I passed! They let me on the other day, and I touched the Dome of the Rock. It's beautiful - blue mosaic tiles on the outside and a huge golden dome. I also saw Al-Aqsa mosque (another mosque with a silvery/gray dome also on Temple Mount). It was way cool!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Triclinium

On the evening of Shabbat we had a big fireside here. They invited the BYU students studying Arabic in Jordan to come, plus the 80 of us and the faculty and missionary couples - it was a pretty big fireside. We started out upstairs and read about the Savior telling his apostles to go and secure a room for the Passover. Then we walked outside, across the balcony and down some stairs and across another balcony into the chapel/auditorium. We were very quiet as we felt the cool evening air and looked out over Jerusalem by night.

When we got into the auditorium/chapel (which has an amazing overlook of Jerusalem through the windows behind the stage) we saw that the stage was set up for the Last Supper. 13 of our boys went up and reclined on their pillows on their left sides around a low table. We read some scriptures, and then Brother Seely read scriptures and told us the events during meals (the woman anointing Jesus' feet) and in the Upper Room during the Last Supper. The boys acted this out silently as Brother Seely spoke, so we heard and saw Christ (also known as Dan, here) wash the disciples' feet, give the sop of bread to Judas, and institute the sacrament. It was very powerful. The boys sat down, and then one by one the other professors (so four in all, including Bro. Seely) spoke about the next chapters in John. We learned about Christ being the true vine, about being a disciple and a friend to Christ, about having great love for men, and about the nature of the Son and the Father. One thing that stood out to me was when Brother Ostler said, "There is a connection between how we live and how we see other people," referring to how Jesus still called Judas "friend" when Judas kissed him to betray him.

We had some songs and some testimonies and talked about things we've done here to prepare us for our lives. How in the Valley of Elah we practiced throwing stones so we can kill our personal Goliaths. How we can see pieces of truth in most other cultures and religions. How we had a pilgrimage here, not a tour; the difference between a tourist and a pilgrim is attitude, but we are pilgrims because we seek, long, and expect to be affected by what we will see. It made me wonder what I'm seeking for, and what, as the years go by, I'll see that I was affected by.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Difference between Boys and Girls

We visited Masada a week or so ago (the same day we visited the Dead Sea). At one point, we were climbing back up stairs that are constructed such that if you are not careful when you look up, you look up the skirt of the female who may be wearing a skirt above you. I was walking in front of a boy here named Aaron (who is a very sarcastic and easy-going fellow), and he said to himself, "Just look down, just look down. Walking pornography, that's all this is. In fact, that's all girls are. I think we should keep all women covered up completely and in the home, where they belong." I turned around and said to him, "Well, I think we should re-institute adult male circumcision!" He blinked at me a few times, and I continued walking. A few minutes later I hear him mutter, "Well, that'll never catch on."


I recently got back from a few days in Jordan. The border crossing took a long time but not as long as Egypt, and Jordan didn't give us stamps so we all have random "leaving Israel" and "entering Israel" stamps. I wonder if anyone will wonder someday what I did in this illicit period of time?

We went to Petra (by way of other stops, including Mt. Nebo) and then spent the entire next day in Petra. If you don't know what Petra is, I reccomend you look it up, because it's pretty much amazing. My pictures are updated, so you can see there. So you understand my Indiana Jones pictures, the third movie (Last Crusade) was filmed in part at Petra. It was amazing! We took donkeys up a mountain to a monastary, something like 950 steep steep steps (try saying that 10 times fast) and that was my favorite part of my entire visit to Petra. You have to try not to fall off but the saddle and donkey are willing for that to happen. They've been up the path so many times the require no direction, nor do they respond to any startled shrieks or attempts at steering from the rider. Donkeys, it turns out, appear to be more comfortable on the edges. Unlike humans. Donkeys don't have good manners and poop on the donkey behind them and run into donkeys in front of them (preferrably not at the same time). Traffic jams in tight steep ravines with donkeys coming down are especially fun! Oh, did I mention that I was wearing a skirt? That day I walked 12.5 miles, drank 4.5 liters of water plus 2 juices and 2 ice creams - this is more than a gallon, folks, and it was a warm day. But I'm alive!!

The other great part of the trip was visiting the branch (just to say hi) in Amman. There was a fellow there named Ramon (raw-mawn, like lawn) who is Armenian but is married to a Jordanian and his family have been members of the church since '96. He has such great love for the Gospel and his country - he said, "I wish I could see all of Jordan in this room." You could feel his spirit while he spoke. After the Q&A with the district president, a bunch of kids went back to where Ramon was sitting. We just wanted to be near him. He told us about how he can't proselyte here (you can't anywhere in the Middle East) and how sad it made him. Then he told us, "You are the military of Jesus Christ! Call the people and teach the people. Call the people, and teach the people." Because we CAN. I never thought about missionary work as a privlege. When our teachers came to tell us to leave, Ramon said, "I am very happy; I am in a garden. All these," he points to us, "are my flowers." A boy asked, "What type of flower am I?" Ramon responded, "One from a fig tree." And it was amazing to feed off of his spirit and know he was basking in ours. It was a very amazing experience.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Temple Institute

We went to a place in Jerusalem the other day called the Temple Institute. The people here are a more extremist Jewish group whose goal is to build another temple - the third temple. (A brief bit of history here: first we had Solomon's Temple at approx 1000 BC, then we had Herod's Temple at around 25 BC, both were destroyed.) There are several problems with this goal. Most obvious is that they do not have the land (the Temple Mount in the Old City), and the temple must be built there. Not only built there, but the Holy of Holies must be built on the exact spot of the current Dome of the Rock. Some people (not me, anymore) don't quite understand this group and fear that they might resort to terrorist actions to obtain the land.

Since they cannot build the temple, they are now re-creating vessels that the temple will need. These include the table of the shewbread, the menorah (they made one; it's huge), parts of the altar, and various other vessels. They also are making large amounts of clothes for the Levite priests whom they hope will come back when the temple is built to officiate therein. They have some high priest garments, too, but apparently this is somewhat difficult to make because the blue overcoat for the high priest can only be dyed with a particular snail, who is rather rare, and somehow makes blue die. (Incidentally, they are doing nothing to make sure they do not kill off all these snails; I asked.)

It was very interesting to hear their opinions on the matter. The guide I had was a girl about my age, and was very strong in her desire to have a temple again. However, only Levites can officiate in the Jewish temple. But what authority do they have beyond lineage? There's a huge piece missing here. When we asked her about some of the things that took place (ie sacrifice) she said she didn't know why, necessarily, but it was out of obedience, and the Lord would let them know through a prophet if things were to change.

It also opened my eyes to how other places and religions, etc. seek for righteous things, and want to come to God. Many times I wanted to say something. No! You're almost there - it's a righteous worthy desire! But we do have a prophet! We do have temples! Everyone can be worthy to enter. It's as though they are looking so hard for the mark that they completely miss it and look beyond it. Sacrifices mean something beyond obedience, though obedience is good: they point to Christ. Going here helped me realize how much I appreciate what I know and how grateful I was for that.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Jordan Rift Valley

Today I went from over 2700 feet above sea level down to 1300 feet below sea level. Where is the only place in the world that you can do this? Oh yes: Israel!

A list of places we went today: Masada (refuge palace of Herod the great, a famous siege ramp from when Romans once took it, but not really because when it was clear they would win, all the men killed their families and each other and then the last fellow killed himself), the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi (where David went when fleeing Saul, a lovely waterfall but a hot, difficult hike), and Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found).

Dead Sea overview: the surface of this body of water is 1300 feet below sea level; the bottom is 2600 feet below sea level. Nothing lives in the Dead Sea - even if someone tossed me in there - it would be awful. More details following. The Dead Sea is fed by the Jordan River (which starts at the Sea of Galilee) but has no exit, plus it is very very warm here. Hence, the water evaporates, leaving the salt and other mineral content of this sea very very high.

Dead Sea experience: coming down to the edge of the water, it appeared that everyone was standing in the water because it was only up to their mid-torso. Not so: the bottom drops away rather quickly, but you stay afloat! I waded in, glad for my shoes even though they looked dorky because the rocks were sharp and slippery. Then there's a white line over the rocks, like someone had thrown a white sheet over the next several feet of rocks. I soon discovered that this was actually salt and mineral deposits, from 1/4" to 1" thick - maybe more, but that's when I stopped caring. Because now it was suddenly very difficult to keep my feet in the water. I found the edge where the rocks dropped off (who knows how deep it was? It could have been hundreds of feet deep and I'd never know!!) and slid into the sea. Or at least, I tried to. Rather, I bobbed on the surface just like the rest of my compatriots. And the water felt oily against your skin and if you scooped up a handful of the water, it is indeed about as thick as olive oil.

The Dead Sea is seven times denser than - water? ocean water? - something. This means that it feels a little like you're on the Moon. You can lay back and look like you're sitting on an inflatable chair. If you try to swim, you can't keep your feet under the water (or at least not with shoes on them) so you can't kick. Trying to swim freestyle was rather funny to watch: arms and head sort of normal, a little high, you can see most of the back out of the water completely, and then there comes the rear end. Which sticks way out of the water and you cannot keep it down. And then legs that uselessly are higher than your head! Swimming was a joke here, and it took a very long to move anywhere.

There are mud holes on the shore a hundred meters or so from where you get in the water - dark, black mud. Which, for some reason which I don't know but I definitely participated in, we all rubbed over our skin until we looked like charcoal beings wearing swimming suits. Chimney sweeps! You'll see "Dead Sea Bath Salts" for sale your whole life, so maybe this mud was good for us? Jumping back in the water to rinse said mud off yourself (after ample pictures of the Mormon Israeli Aborigines, a/k/a the MIA), everyone tried to (and eventually gave up) not get the sea in their eyes as they attempt to clean off the mud from your face, which I intelligently placed there. However, I did not give up. This means that after getting the mud off, some dribblets from my forehead went….you guessed it, into mine eyes. This was very painful. (Did I mention that you find all sorts of cuts over you that you never knew you had? They burn!) And then we discovered the difference between boys and girls, both sides desperately wishing they were the other gender to avoid associated unpleasant experiences. Some poor souls had had a BM before entering the water and the toilet paper's scratching proved to be quite distasteful. The event started out fun but ended with Sariah, blind (ever get sea water in your eyes? Okay. Mix that with PEPPER SPRAY and you got it!), crawling onto the shore, pleading with a random boy to let me use a corner of his towel to wipe her eyes. I enjoyed it but I am fairly sure that the Dead Sea can go right up there with the Red Sea in terms of my "seas that I have visited but don't intend to swim in again" list!

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words - except in Galilee, where it's two thousand!

Let's skip the pictures - eventually I'll post them on flickr, but instead I'll create a syntax snapshot set from Galilee.

Nazareth: this is a picture of the Church of the Annunciation, where the birth of the Savior was announced to Mary. (Or, as someone else noted, it is where "the angel Gabriel enunciated.") There are lots of pictures/mosaics of Mary here donated by other countries to represent their classical icons/images of Mary. Incidentally, the one donated by the US looks nothing like anything I've ever seen before, especially in the US. I also lost my scriptures here. This is very sad.

Boat Ride O'er the Sea of Galilee: this picture is from a wooden boat. The Sea of Galilee is actually a lake (Lake Kinaret) and so is not salty. This is wonderful because when a wave hits your face and goes up your nose, it doesn't hurt! It is also about 700 feet below sea level and is the mouth of the Jordan River. Moving on to more specific parts of this picture: it is early morning, the boat is stopped. We learn about Christ and Peter walking on the water. (And since Peter means "stone," we tried throwing stones into the water; they did not float.) We next learn about the Christ calming the sea in the storm. We learned also the history of the song "Master the Tempest is Raging." If you get a chance, read the lyrics and don't sing it and pay attention to them; they're beautiful. We sing the hymn, and it is a lovely moment. My favorite lines: "No waters shall swallow the ship where lies the Master of ocean and earth and skies." With Christ in that boat, they were never going to sink. We've already seen Christ's power over the elements: the flood, rain, parting Red Sea, etc. No water would be able to swallow Him up. This is one of my favorite pictures.

Mount of Beatitudes: I may have previously mentioned that every Christian site in the Holy Land has a church on top of it. These churches are often lovely, are always ornate and crowded, but often make it difficult to imagine or picture what the site must have been like when it was "made famous." The church on the Mount is Italian, and was commissioned by Mussolini. It is much more understated than other churches in this country, though, and the Mount still provided a lovely view of the Sea of Galilee.

Capernaum: pretty much everything happened here. This is the city by the shore of the Sea of Galilee where Christ called apostles and made them fishers of men. Peter lived here, and after Christ left Nazareth it became his "hometown," and he stayed with Peter. Other things that happened here: raising Jairus' daughter from the dead, the woman with the issue of blood healed, the centurion's servant healed, the same centurion then finances the building of a synagogue where Christ later delivered the "bread of life" sermon, the man with palsy was lowered through Peter's roof, blessing children. They have built an odd church here over Peter's house but the floor of the church in the middle is glass and you can see inside Peter's house from the church. The original basalt synagogue is fallen but the foundation is still there and then a 4th century limestone synagogue's ruins are on top of it (LDS scriptures - the picture of Capernaum in the back of the new editions). We had great devotionals/lessons here. My other favorite picture!

Ceasaria Philipi: a huge mountain of bedrock. This is where Christ told Peter that Peter was a stone and Christ is the rock upon whom the church is built.

Akko: a crusader city, Richard the Lionheart spent time here. It's on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea (this would NOT be in Galilee). I won a Magnum (ice cream bar) here by finding a fleur-de-lis on a wall.

Meggido: this is a famous tell. Yes. Lots of stuff happened here. It overlooks where the battle of Armageddon will be fought.

Mount Tabor: either here or Mount Harmon is the Mount of Transfiguration. But there's a church on top of Tabor, so we went there. It was neat, though.

Nimrod's Fortress: not only does this place have a fantastic name, but it certainly outclasses every other palace/fortress I have ever explored. This includes France. (Disclaimer: this does not include palace/chateau grounds/gardens or roofs. Much of Nimrod's roof was missing, and Chambord had the best roof EVER.) We had two hours to run around. This fortress is built on top of a very very steep hill. It's a mystery even today how the rocks got up there. Legend is that there were giants involved. Excellent view of the Jezreel Valley!